Says it is a wrong currency; other channels divided on strategy

In a move that could handicap the measurement of television viewership in the country, Multi Screen Media — owner of the Sony network of channels, and is among the country’s biggest broadcasters — is ‘taking a hard look’ at whether to renew its subscription with Television Audience Measurement (TAM) Media Research. While broadcasters across the board have expressed concerns about TAM, channels have continued to use its data till now.

Man Jit Singh, Chief Executive Officer (CEO), MSM, told The Hindu: “We are aware that TAM is the currency of the industry. But we are taking a hard look at whether having no currency or a bad currency is better.” A wrong currency, he said, led to wrong decisions on programming and advertising fronts. “Should we pay for the destruction of our own value? An active evaluation is on, and since we are up for renewal, there is a possibility of not participating at all.”

In a recent paper, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) said problems with the TAM system included a non-transparent methodology; limited sample size; cross-holdings between rating agencies and broadcasters and advertising agencies; and the lack of a credible complaint mechanism. New Delhi Television (NDTV) has filed a case in a United States court, while Prasar Bharati (PB) earlier complained to the Competition Commission of India (CCI) about TAM Media Research’s “unfair trade practices”.

TAM Media Research has said it functioned “transparently” and any move by a broadcaster to withdraw would be “unfortunate”. L. Krishnan, CEO, TAM Media Research, told The Hindu, “We have a very good relationship with Sony and are open to ideas. We have not received any communication from them so far.”

He said TAM Media Research had, in recent months, expanded its coverage to 225 towns and over 36,000 respondents.

At a recent meeting of the Indian Broadcasting Foundation (IBF), the issue is learnt to have been taken up seriously again, with several channels expressing reservations.

IBF secretary-general Shailesh Shah said, “No decision of this nature will be taken at the level of the board. Individual organisations will decide. There has been dissatisfaction with the TAM system for the last ten years, but the dissatisfaction fluctuates like the weather. Nothing is happening today that did not happen in the past.”

While the complaints against TAM appear universal, channels are divided on future strategy.

Sources in NDTV hinted that some drastic action may be in the offing, but senior officials refused to comment on the record. Sunil Lulla, Managing Director and CEO, Times Television Network, and IBF board member, said: “There is not a single broadcaster who is completely satisfied with the system. But this has nothing to do with the general consumer. Why should I discuss my service provider issues with anybody?”

Jawhar Sircar, CEO, Prasar Bharati, told The Hindu: “We have strong reservations [about] TAM but until an alternative system is in place, it may not be prudent to [not] have any system at all.” A broadcaster representative, who has attended key industry meetings on the issue, said: “Look, some channels are making noise. Sony, for instance, is not happy with its IPL ratings. But no one will walk out because it will adversely affect advertisement.”

After repeated prodding by the government and having gotten wise to TAM’s limitations, the IBF is working to create the Broadcasting Audience Research Council (BARC).

Mr. Man Jit Singh, who also happens to be the IBF president, said: “The establishment study is under way. We have issued different Request for Proposals (RFPs) for installation of metres, collection of data and analysis of data and have received interest from 48 different vendors.” He said the industry would have its own measurement system by the “first quarter of 2014”.

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